Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Daredevils (aka Daredevils of Kung Fu) (aka Shaolin Daredevils)

Director: Chang Cheh
Starring: Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Lo Mang, Sun Chien

The ubiquitous Chang Cheh first introduced the "Venom Mob" (Kuo Chui-usually the leader, Chang Sheng,-his tag team partner, Lo Mang,-the muscleman who arguably became the most popular "Venom" here in the States, Lu Feng,-usually the villian and Sun Chien,-the kicker) in 1978 in the now legendary cult movie The Five Venoms (aka 5 Deadly Venoms). That film (devoid of a name actor and absent of any comedy relief which had become the trend at that point) became a surprise hit and began a series of a dozen or so adventures with the same group (though all five did not appear in every subsequent entry) up until 1981 where they disbanded. These films were among the wildest and bloodiest ever seen in the Shaw cannon.

The Daredevils filmed in 1979, was an unusual entry in that in took place during the early Republic period (1920s). This allowed for Shaw Bros. to dress up their familiar sets a little differently, making for a slight visual alternative to what fans became used to seeing. Guns were also featured here, albeit briefly and admittedly awkwardly (it wasn't until the mid eighties before Hong Kong movies were to truly meld martial arts and gunplay).

At the start of the film, Lo Mang's character is in mourning. His wealthy family having been betrayed and killed by a vicious General. When Mang seeks revenge, he is himself killed by the General's martial arts bodyguards. In retaliation, his four closest friends, all street acrobats (the Daredevils) use his family money in order to construct an elaborate ruse to get close to and ultimately assassinate the General.

The first thirty minutes of this film features some lively action but once Lo's character is killed off (way too early, I may add), the adventure bogs down a little in an overly elaborate cat and mouse game that wasn't as interesting as I had hoped it would be (watching characters getting patted down over and over again got a little tedious). Fortunately, things do pick up and the finale (where our four acrobat avengers finally have their man cornered) features one of the better fights found in this series..

Overall, The Daredevils may not represent The Venom Mob at their best, but the unusual setting and terrific finale make it a worth catching. Just wish they hadn't killed my favorite Venom off so early on.

                                                                    **1/2 / ****

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